Real competitive advantage via IT is now based on service innovation, and the implications for talent management and recruiting are far reaching.
A recent white paper from the University of Cambridge (http://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/ssme/documents/080428ssi_us_letter.pdf) brings to mind a distinction I make between
- First-order business cases, which are based on the automation of some task or business process, and
- Second-order business cases, which are based on the integration of first-order solutions, and
- Third-order business cases, which are based on the improved management of second-order solutions.
Most IT projects are now based on second and increasingly third order business cases: Commodity technologies are still finding their way into first-order solutions, but mostly in late adopter sectors, such as governmental services. In almost all businesses, most of the low-hanging automation business cases have already been picked & consumed, or already thrown out onto technology compost heap.
Yet our education and training methods for preparing our IT workforce are still largely based on first-order automation and its constituent technologies: We still teach the design of operating systems, compilers, train on low-level programming languages, etc. But as a percentage of industry labor, such base technology work is rare, and, outside of the open source community, limited to a select few companies.
Successful second- and third-order business case projects require modeling, analytic, design, management and financial skills that today are only acquired through many years of hard knocks. Our Cambridge Don's suggest that,
"Service Science is emerging as a distinct field. Its vision is to discover the underlying logic of complex service systems and to establish a common language and shared frameworks for service innovation. To this end, an interdisciplinary approach should be adopted for research and education on service systems…Industry refers to these people as T-shaped professionals, who are deep problem solvers in their home discipline but also capable of interacting with and understanding specialists from a wide range of disciplines and functional areas."
Bowen & Spohrer at IBM have suggested that a hybrid degree program, half business and half computer science, is best suited to the new age.
My own education was almost entirely interdisciplinary and liberal arts; my technology training came later and on the job. Back in the eighties, that was novel; but in the future, perhaps not. I also think the trend bodes well for integrating more women into the IT workforce, women being generally more communicative and group-engaged then the "deep problem solvers" who are 90% male.